Belfast Telegraph

DUP meets police over 'Soldier F' band row

Foster says PSNI actions a denial of free speech

DUP leader Arlene Foster with MPs Sammy Wilson and Gregory Campbell and MLAs David Hilditch and Gary Middleton
DUP leader Arlene Foster with MPs Sammy Wilson and Gregory Campbell and MLAs David Hilditch and Gary Middleton
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann at PSNI headquarters in Belfast
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said people have the right to support Soldier F after meeting the PSNI yesterday.

Police chiefs assured the DUP that a review will take place into the policing operation involving the Larne flute band which displayed Parachute Regiment emblems at Saturday's Apprentice Boys parade.

Mrs Foster, along with MPs Sammy Wilson and Gregory Campbell, attended the meeting at PSNI headquarters to outline "loyalist community" concerns.

Members of Clyde Valley Flute Band wore shirts bearing the Parachute Regiment insignia along with the letter 'F' during the Londonderry parade in support of Soldier F, who faces murder charges over Bloody Sunday.

The band was escorted by a large number of PSNI officers on Saturday as it made its way through the city. The band's bus was also stopped for two hours on the return home as police attempted to identify members.

After yesterday's hour-long meeting, Mrs Foster said members of the band, also known as The Gun Runners, were entitled to wear the symbol as a matter of freedom of speech.

"Soldier F is going to be brought before the courts, he hasn't been found guilty, he hasn't gone through due process, which we believe in very firmly, but people have a right to support Soldier F," she continued.

The DUP leader said that while her party supports the PSNI, it must challenge the policing decisions that were made, adding: "It concerns us greatly if there is a perception building that there isn't confidence in policing.

"We do not believe that [the PSNI's] actions were proportionate and that they were balanced."

Commenting on the agreement between the Apprentice Boys, police and Bogside Residents' Group regarding provocative items being worn during the parade, Mr Campbell said it covered items such as T-shirts and flags but did not include items such as Parachute Regiment motifs.

An Ulster Unionist Party delegation, led by leader Robin Swann, also met the PSNI yesterday and the North Antrim MLA believes "cool heads" are needed to deal with the fallout from last weekend's parade.

"It is now time to repair the damage that has been done to relationships and all sides must get round the table - the police, Apprentice Boys, residents and all other interested parties - to re-establish trust and respect going forward," he said.

Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin described the meetings as "robust and constructive" and said it allowed the PSNI to listen to all of the concerns that have been raised.

"As with all our policing operations there will be a full debrief of our actions on Saturday and we will learn any lessons that result from it," he continued.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion is hoping to meet the Apprentice Boys over what she called the "disgraceful disrespect" shown to Bloody Sunday families.

"Ahead of Saturday's parade assurances were given that there would be no Parachute Regiment or Soldier F imagery involved, but this agreement was broken," she said.

"Subsequent Apprentice Boys' denials of such an agreement do not stand up to scrutiny and are in direct contravention of the accounts from the PSNI and the Bogside Residents' Group."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph